Luke 21,5-19 By holding fast, you will gain your lives.
Since he was very young, our oldest son, Jared, has been interested in how things work. We noticed when he pulled a toaster apart before his third birthday. Our youngest son, Mark, has been fascinated by things related to construction since his Bob the Builder days. I thought they were passing through ‘phases’ for a while, maybe encouraged by their cache of Little Tykes plastic drills, mini construction shoes, Star Wars films and Lego everything. But their interests have stuck.
Through the car window, they played a never-ending game of I Spy, scanning the streets for cranes, caution tape and traffic barrels, and searching for orange and black road signs. Before Mark was a reader, he recognized signs like ‘Bump,’ and ‘Road Work Ahead.’ He wanted to see the land-movers knock things over and listen to the beeping dump trucks. Jared wanted to peer through construction viewing windows to get a look at foundations curing and rebar infrastructures. When we’d see an unfamiliar sign, or new road project, they’d shout, “Mom, ‘Slow down!’” worried that we’d pass-by before seeing what was being torn-down or built-up. They’d call out urgently, “Hurry, hurry!” “What’s that sign?”
When Jesus stood in the temple in Jerusalem and counseled that ‘one day’, it would become scattered stones, those who heard him were alarmed, but they didn’t seem surprised. Jesus’ hearers were used to a bit of distraction at the temple, - the place of God’s presence at the center of the people and the nation. They didn’t spend much time wringing their hands, or wondering ‘Why’ or ‘How’ transformation might come. They just wanted to know ‘When’ it would be coming. And, ‘What’ are the signs? – And so, Jesus’ first response was to comfort them in challenging times.
All through-out Scripture, when Joshua stepped into leadership, Jeremiah gathered the nation, and Paul wrote to encourage early Christian communities, in times of change, God’s people are comforted by the assurance that God’s presence and power will see them through. Closer to home, research groups have been telling the Church about falling membership involvement for generations, now. Some claim to know the cause of the present crisis and will name people from over there, who are not us. Others claim to know the end of a story that’s still unfolding.
In every time and place, ‘the days to come’ are ‘now.’ And Jesus warns his followers, “Do not go after false prophets.” Jesus echoes the messengers God sent in former times of trouble, saying: Do not be alarmed. He urges his listeners to resist the fear that incites us to flee or fight. His words of comfort prepare disciples for action; to receive the wisdom and opportunity to testify and be transformed for God’s purposes.
When our young sons saw a work crew or an excavation, they’d ask, “What are they doing there, Mom? What are they building?” Most of the time I answered, “I don’t know – what do you think they’re building?” Because, when I looked at a construction site, I didn’t have the eyes to see what was taking shape there. But they did. Sometimes their vision of what was being built was inspired by concrete details they observed; sometimes it was grounded only in their imagination. But they’d see it.
Jesus’ answer to his listeners’ questions isn’t simple. It’s not a check-list or a road map to help us navigate the days to come. It doesn’t give us a comforting promise: The faithful will yet be called to witness. And when we are, God will be present and at work. Because, in the midst of every challenge, we are called to live as God’s hopeful people. We are called to see and hear what God is building, even now.